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NY suit faults military schools for rape response

By Larry Neumeister
Associated Press / April 20, 2012
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NEW YORK—A lawsuit filed Friday on behalf of two women who say they were raped by classmates at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy in Maryland is seeking the court's help in permanently changing attitudes about sexual assault at military learning institutions.

The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan said the institutions "systemically and repeatedly ignore rampant sexual harassment." Besides seeking lasting changes at the military institutions, the suit also seeks unspecified damages and the awarding of academic credit for the women who said they were forced to leave the institutions when the psychological effects of attacks left them too distressed to remain enrolled.

The lawsuit named as defendants the former superintendents of the schools, along with former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and the current secretaries of the Army and Navy.

The lawsuit said the defendants and military leaders repeatedly claim they have zero tolerance for sexual crimes even though the facts show otherwise.

"They have a high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks, and `zero tolerance' for those who report rape, sexual assault and harassment," the suit said.

Judicial review is necessary because the military has "a long-standing pattern of ignoring Congressional mandates designed to ameliorate the military forces and academies' dismal record of accountability for rapes and sexual assaults," the suit said.

William Marks, a Naval Academy spokesman in Annapolis, Md., said he cannot comment on litigation. However, he called the academy's sexual assault response and advocacy program among the nation's strongest.

"The Naval Academy takes every report of potential sexual harassment or assault extremely seriously," he said. "Every unrestricted report of sexual assault is thoroughly investigated, the results of the investigation are reviewed by legal experts, and appropriate action taken whenever the evidence allows us to do so. Every individual making a report is afforded physical and psychological counseling for as long as they desire -- even if beyond their time at the academy."

Sherri K. Reed, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Military Academy, issued a nearly identical statement, saying every report of potential sexual harassment or assault is taken "extremely seriously" and thoroughly investigated and referred to legal experts.

She, too, said anyone who files a complaint is provided counseling "and other support for as long as they desire -- even if beyond their time at the academy."

A message left with a spokeswoman for government lawyers was not immediately returned.

The lawsuit based its claims in part on the descriptions provided by two women, named in the complaint. The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they were victims of alleged sex abuse.

The suit said a 20-year-old Pennsylvania woman resigned from West Point after she became suicidal after she was raped by a roommate's boyfriend, who remained in her unit after she reported she was attacked. It said West Point did not alter her duties, requiring "her to empty her perpetrator's trash every day" as part of a requirement that freshmen follow all directions from upperclassmen to do things such as shining shoes, making beds and emptying trash.

The lawsuit said the second woman, now 22, chose the Naval Academy over about 30 colleges that recruited her after her junior year in high school because of her high grades and soccer talent. It said she was raped twice, once by a fellow student after attending a party by Naval Academy men and again months later in a hotel room by a classmate after she passed out from imbibing alcohol. The rapes were reported to the Naval Academy after she became suicidal and told her parents about the attacks, the suit said.

"Despite voluminous evidence of widespread use of alcohol and drugs to accomplish rape and sexual assault, none of the defendants took systemic and effective steps to eliminate the use of alcohol and drugs by West Point cadets or Naval Academy midshipmen," the lawsuit said. "None of the defendants took any effective steps to ensure that those who engaged in sexual predation at the academies were prosecuted and incarcerated for their crimes."

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Associated Press Correspondent Brian Witte in Annapolis, Md., contributed to this report

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